The culminating night for the Antiplolo leg of the PhilPop Songwriting Boot Camp 2017 wasn't my typical concert coverage. There was no extravagant stage setup with thousands of onlooking fans or advanced lighting schemes with complex dance choreography. Instead, there was just a simple platform with a tarpaulin backdrop bearing the sponsors' names. What was here – and what other events sometimes lack – was a special closeness and like-mindedness that you don’t come across often.
If you haven’t heard of PhilPop Songwriting Boot Camp, it’s a 3-day workshop for aspiring songwriters. It's organized by the the PhilPop Musicfest Foundation, a non-profit group aiming to promote new Filipino songwriters and singers. It’s a conglomerate of renowned Filipino songwriters, musicians, and industry leaders, along with previous PhilPop Songwriting Competition winners who act as alumni coaches to help inspire and encourage the boot camp fellows.
This year, the Boot Camp has expanded to multiple workshops held nationwide, which will all lead to a songwriting competition, to be held in 2018.
The topics of the workshops include a variety of informative lessons, from the basics of melody and lyric writing and copyright laws, to music theory and arranging. They are now in their 6th year, providing a channel for gifted artists to create songs while renewing awareness in Philippine music and discovering new talent.
PhilPop has worked with familiar names in the industry, including the likes of Christian Baustista, Cooky Chua, Joey Ayala, the Itchyworms, Mike Villegas, Karylle, Bayang Barrios, and Johnoy Danao, just to name a few. It was recently announced that Ben&Ben, one of last years winners, will be opening for international artist Lucy Rose in her upcoming concert here in Manila. The Bootcamp Masters this year are household names in the OPM world too – Ryan Cayabyab and Noel Cabangon.
On the culminating night of the Antipolo leg, held on May 14, Noel kicked off the the show, taking the stage with a couple of songs. Of course, the legendary singer/songwriter knocked it out of the park. Essentially, the boot camp is a clinic on how to perform, so the students in the crowd were intensely focused on his every move. The experienced performers looked on with admiration. Noel makes it look so easy.
The hosts for the evening were alumni and past winners Jungee Marcelo and Thyro Alfaro, who were thoroughly entertaining.
As you entered the room that night, it seemed to be occupied by a bunch of ordinary people. But as the night went on, you soon discovered that you were surrounded by incredibly talented musicians at every turn. Each of the participants sang an original song that they had been working on at their workshops.
Here’s a quick review of each of them, in the order in which they appeared.
Jan Aldrin is a 30-year-old from Albay, pretty solid with a smooth vocal.
Before taking the stage with a confident performance, the hosts teased Henry Alburo a bit, referring to him as Fabio with his long flowing hair – he took it all in stride.
Zsaris Mendioro played a right-handed acoustic guitar left-handed, with a style and look that reminded me slightly of Clarice Pempengco.
Nicole Abuda matched some impressive guitar-work with her soft and sultry vocals.
Gherns Calina performed some punchy guitar work to match his soothing, melodic vocal performance, keeping the crowd interested with sustained vocal peaks.
Performing with an acoustic guitar – as mostly everyone was for the night – Jonathan Sta Maria's raspy vocal style stood out.
There was a bit of confusion on which mic to use at the start of Benjamin Quijano song, but that didn’t phase his strong, deliberate vocals.
Norman Los Anes addressed the crowd with some light banter before his track, and his onstage presence was deliberate, as he sang in an animated fashion.
One of the few musicians that night who performed a song written in English, Gio Levy performed with a bluesy, folk style that reminded me bit of Shakey Graves.
Mariah Moriones hails from Pasay City, and had a tender and thoughtful style.
Cams Anareta introduced her song by mentioning how she was inspired by Noel to think out of the box. She performed on an electric cigar-box style ukulele, and added a twist to her pleasing vocal by mixing a rap into the original track. It was certainly unusual and maybe one of the most stylized performances of the night.
On why he joined the boot camp, Mike Regalado said: “To be given a chance na makasama sa bootcamp would be a big help para was lumawak pa ang kaalaman ko bilang songwriter at malaki na bagay po ito para sa akin para ma-improve ko pa ang songwriting skills ko.
(To be given a chance to be part of the bootcamp would be a big help to expanding my knowledge as a songwriter, and this is a big thing I can do to further improve my songwriting skills.)
Concentrated and controlled, Glenn Mendoza was one of the few performing on the piano.
Enrico Navarro and J. Reyes are couple of the more experienced students, in their early fifties, it just wasn’t all about the young folks on the list, performing as a duet they went on without a hitch. Reminded me of something of a throwback to 70’s folk rock. Enrico said, “We are still seeking the elusive chance of getting our songs heard by a wider audience, so I joined PhilPop.”
Ken Pores performed a feel-good type of track that had the crowd clapping with delight.
Joseph Ponce took a seat center stage and performed with enthusiasm.
Jen Milante had one of the most heartfelt performances of the evening – in an instant, she went from a soft moment to a powerful vocal run, singing from her soul, and wiping tears from her eyes by the end of the song.
Most of the performers were obviously a bit nervous, some more than others, with a few of them performing as though they had been doing it for years. It’s totally understandable though, it’s not like you’re performing in front of a group of strangers, but rather your teachers, mentors, peers, your musical heroes all in one room.
After the fellows performed one of their original songs, Mr C wrapped up the formal portion of the night with some inspirational words to the artists.
He said that musicians have two instruments to master, an external one and an internal one. You can work on mastering the external one, whether it be a guitar, piano, or whatever instrument you choose – everyone has access to those. But only you have access to your internal instrument, he said, so focus on improving your singing/songwriting skills and that’s what will make you a success.
After that was the evening's open mic event, where the mentors, coaches, and alumni performed. Mr C. sang a couple of tracks for the enthusiastic crowd, with Noel jumping in towards the end. Trina Belamide played the keyboard and before singing an ABBA structured song. Along with the individual performances or duets, many provided inside information or something concrete they’ve learned while performing.
Yumi Lacsamana belted out a track in fine fashion to the delight of the crowd, Toti Sorioso and Benedict Sy also gave an impressive performance, with Marvin Querido and Marlon Barnuevo backing up the artists on keyboards. Jeroel Maranan even conducted a tongue-in-cheek mini-clinic on the animated faces that he makes during a show.
Yes, the students were remarkable in their solo performances, along with the coaches and alumni, but what impressed me was how dedicated they were to each other. In almost every conversation, they took the opportunity to pass on what they knew, sharing their secrets without hesitation. There was a genuine concern for one another, the feeling of camaraderie was palpable, it was inspiring to witness. Keep an eye, or ear out for these talented artists and look for PhilPop events in your area – it’ll be worth the effort. Be part of the advocacy of Filipino music, help preserve what some may see as a vanishing art, and empower Filipino songwriters whose music has the potential to inspire a nation. – Rappler.com
Editor's note: This article previously misquoted Mike Regalado on why he joined PhilPop. This has been corrected. We apologize for the error.